Everybody experiences the world around them in different ways. Sometimes how your brain understands information from your senses can make it difficult to join in with every day activities.
This page contains resources to help you understand sensory processing and how you can support your child or young person. You can choose the resources that are right for you. There are videos you can watch, video scripts you can download and read (you can translate these or use a screen reader if you need to) and sensory questionnaires you can complete. There are also downloadable booklets, videos and information you can explore.
Information on each sensory system is available in 3 different age ranges. Complete the questionnaire most appropriate for your child or young persons’ developmental level. For example, if your 6 year old has an intellectual disability and is functioning at age 2 years, the strategies in the 2-5 year old questionnaire will be more helpful.
Our eyes take in information from the world which then goes to the brain. This is not the same as how well we see. If you have concerns about your child's ability to see things properly please take them to an optician for an eye test. Some people might become overwhelmed by visual information. They might find lights too bright or a room too distracting to work. They might have to close or cover their eyes. Other people might not notice things in the environment. They might seek out visual input like shiny, spinning toys or stare at things intensely.
If you think your child or young person processes visual information differently you can:
Our auditory system is our sense of hearing. We take information in from our ears. Some children might become overwhelmed or upset by lots of noise. This is common and part of normal development, but some people can remain sensitive to noise. This can stop them taking part in activities. Some people might seek out noise. They might listen to music or watch the TV with the volume turned up. Listening to the world around us helps us make sense of where we are.
If you think your child or young person processes sound differently you can:
Our touch system picks up information about our environment from sensors in our skin. These give us information about differences in things we touch. Some people can be very sensitive to touch. They might dislike certain textures or labels and seams inside clothing. Other people might not notice touch. They don't notice when their shoes are two sizes too small or may feel pain differently.
If you think your child or young person feels touch differently you can:
Our senses of smell and taste are closely linked, as they follow the same pathway through the brain. Some people might become upset by smells that no one else can smell. Other people might seek out smells and smell objects or people. Processing smell differently can make us refuse to eat different food. We all have definite sensory preferences about tastes we like or dislike. Some people might only eat bland food and find it difficult to eat different foods so have a limited diet. Other people might choose to eat intense flavours like spicy or sour foods. They might lick objects which are not food.
If you feel your child or young person processes taste or smell differently you can:
Proprioception is the awareness of body position and movement or knowing where your body is in space. Proprioceptive receptors are in the muscles and joints. They send messages to the brain to tell it where your body parts are in space. They tell you how much force or pressure your muscles are using. This helps us to know which position our body is in. Some people might bump or crash into things or hold their pencil too tightly. They might be too rough when playing with friends or chew on objects like clothing or ends of pencils.
If you feel your child or young person processes proprioceptive information differently you can:
The vestibular system gives us information about balance and movement. When your head and body move, fluid in your inner ear moves too. This gives your brain information about how you are moving. Some people process vestibular information differently. They might spin or move more than other people. Other people might avoid lots of movement. They might not like it when their feet leave the ground.
If you think your child or young person processes balance and movement information differently you can:
Sense of how the body is feeling
Interoception is the sensory system which gives us information about the internal sensations in the body and how they link with emotions. It helps us work out how the body is feeling.
The receptors for this system are throughout the body in organs like the heart, lungs, stomach, bladder and skin. They pick up information and send it to the brain where it is translated into feelings relating to body comfort like hunger, needing the toilet, sleep, being too hot/too cold. It also helps us feel our emotions.
If you process this information differently you might:
What you can do:
There are still lots of discussion about what helps improve interoception. There is no good evidence that any particular strategy is effective. There is some evidence that mindfulness can help. It is important to rule out any possible underlying medical causes for the issues first if you are concerned.
Things which may help:
Help them make the connection so that the next time they have that feeling they are more confident in knowing what it means.
Draw an outline of a body and identify words that might go with that body part. Help your child work out what words they associate with sensations- remember they might not be the same ones you would use!
How my body feels when it is hungry
Notice: my brain feels fuzzy, my muscles feel shaky and my tummy is rumbling.
Connect: I usually notice these feelings together when I’m hungry.
Regulate: I’ll eat something.
Outcome: I notice the fuzzy head, shaky muscles and rumbling tummy have gone. I was right! I must have been hungry.
How my body feels when it is angry
Notice: my brain feels swirly, my muscles feel tense, my heart is beating fast and my breathing is fast. My skin is hot and sweaty.
Connect: I usually notice these feelings together when I’m angry.
Regulate: I know this feeling will pass. I won’t feel like this forever. I will try deep breathing and finding a quiet space. This usually helps me.
Outcome: I notice the feelings are gone.
For younger children:
Listening to my Body by Gabi Garcia
Different strategies work for different people. It is important to work together with your child to try out different strategies. Please don’t expect big changes overnight. It can take several months for sensory strategies to be used effectively. Try to use the strategies you think work best for you and your child consistently for 3 months. If you still need help or advice after this time and you live in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde area you can contact the Occupational Therapy Advice Line.
Specialist Children Services (SCS) Community Occupational Therapy Team have an advice line where parents/carers, education staff, social care staff, voluntary organisations or other health professionals can seek advice and support for children and young people who are having difficulty joining in with the activities that they need and want to do every day.
Areas that we can help with include:
An Occupational Therapist is available to answer your questions between 9.30 am and 12 noon on Tuesday's and Friday's. The advice line number is 0141 531 6536.